Conduits to power

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

NIÑO CALINAO, Dennis Venturina, and now Guillo Servando. Niño was shot inside the UP campus in Diliman in what has been determined as a case of mistaken identity. Dennis was murdered by baseball carrying hooligans in broad daylight before stunned diners at the famous Beach House canteen in Diliman.

And now Guillo Servando whose last moments were seen in a CCTV footage from the condo unit where he was beaten to death by his would-be fraternity brods. The list is long and must draw anger among us. But it looks like fraternity violence is here to stay. For it is sutured to the very fabric of our divided society.

From one level of analysis fraternities by themselves are really no different from other social institutions. They serve as platforms of social integration for individuals. Just like organizations in the university, they facilitate the integration of new students to college life by providing access to a social group, sample exams, or simple good times. There are always inevitably some rite of passage that a prospective member of a social group would have to go through if one were to gain entry and acceptance. And these time-honored traditions of recruitment have a function of teaching the applicant the culture and beliefs of the group.


But what sets the fraternities apart as a social organization is the integration of violence into their whole culture. This is evidenced by the hazing rituals that neophytes are made to undergo at the onset which almost always involve some version of physical violence inflicted on the applicant. They also protect the fraternity pride and honor by attacking rival fraternities in violent rumbles.

This shared experience of pain in both initiation and rumbles create the initial bonds of camaraderie and provide the anchor upon which fraternity solidarity is forged across batches. These inevitably become the topic for drinking conversations between resident brods and alumni, the secret meaning behind the elaborate handshakes of brods from different chapters, and the events that everyone prepares for and looks forward to annually within the organization.

In other words, the hazing ritual is the glue that binds the fraternity and gives it the desired social value of exclusivity. Without it, it is just another organization with less attraction and perceived rewards. What drives an individual to join a fraternity and endure the hazing ritual could be attributed to many factors but it is this attraction toward the veneer of exclusivity that a fraternity offers that make it sociologically meaningful.

If we are to dissect what this exclusivity is, it is, for all intents and purposes, actually a claim to social power. Their brods are placed in high places and can facilitate all sorts of socially-meaningful favors for the applicant in the form of jobs as well as business and political connections, they like to brag. And true enough, these promises are delivered.

For behind the workings of formal institutions which like to present themselves as operating according codified rules and practices, is the underbelly of social networks provided by family relationship, political accommodation, and fraternity brotherhood that fuel the logic of these organizations. When you are accosted for a traffic violation or get flagged down in a checkpoint, you mentally check who you can call to help you extricate yourself from the bind. The same tactic is applied when you want to get that fat government contract where who you know matters.

All these reveal to us the function of fraternities in our society. They serve as conduits to power – a valuable social resource that happens to be concentrated on a few groups in our society. The fact that not everyone can have access to this social power is given credence by the stringent recruitment process at the center of which is the violence of the hazing ritual. The wooden paddle, more than being a symbol of the fraternity itself, actually fulfill a gate-keeping function. Those that successfully survive its brutal punishment receive the exclusive social rewards reserved for a brod.

There is thus an affinity between fraternity violence and other types of violence in our society especially when these involve limits to access of power. Society can be regarded as one big fraternity where striking workers and peasants victimized by land-grabbing fail the standards of exclusivity reserved only for those with pedigree.

The hazing ritual is performed by the State’s police and military forces where just like in an initiation rite, the odds are stacked against the aspiring neophyte. In these instances, however, access to these conduits to power is more a matter of death than life.


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 08, 2014.


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